Sunday, 12 December 2010

Sunday Lunch and Fat Ducks

Ducks in warmer times on the River Stour at  Clare Country
Sunday Lunch this week could have been about fresh duck instead of frozen. However, the cold snap has turned up a new phenomenon, the wrong type of duck. For the American readers of this blog I will explain. We have a tradition in the UK of always appearing more than mildly surprised when our transport systems cease to work in cold weather. A standard excuse by the operators of the system is that wrong conditions have stopped service. Examples range from the wrong snow, the wrong ice on the rail lines, and tomato plants (sorry that's the warm weather excuse). The bottom line is that nobody is to blame it is the weather!

So the wrong type of duck. According to the Farming programme on BBC Radio 4 the duck of 2010 has been granted a 2 week reprieve. Shooting has been banned. The RSPB has asked people not to disturb the ducks. Dog walkers and others have been asked to consider the fact that the ducks have not achieved a sufficient layer of fat to cope with over exertion and the cold.

We could be Darwinist here and say survival of the fittest. However, the wrong type of ducks may be ecologically due to a number of reasons. Firstly the food supply is not sufficient for the number of ducks, conservation working too well. Two, farming practise is not leaving enough available food on fields during winter, applies more to geese than ducks though. Or water is frozen where ducks may feed denying access to pond life. In any event wild duck would appear to be off the menu.

In previous Duck encounters I have often acquired ducks in a not quite retail environment. A local who used to drink in the pub was a Wild Fowler. Sadly he is no longer with us. He had the obligatory Black Labrador called Storm that also used to check into the pub with his master. The gentleman in question used to turn up in his flat cap, waxed jacket and stand at the bar drinking Guinness.

Storm used to watch his master from underneath the coat rack with deep suspicion as the pint glass neared being emptied. If his owner started talking to me, he would take a deep sigh and lie down as the second pint was ordered. I learnt about the shooting syndicate on the Nene Washes and the various other wetlands from Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Essex where he used to shoot. The conservation value that these areas gave from the fact they were not drained was always apparent in the conversation. The reason for land management for shooting was one definitely of self-interest for him, but also apparent was his  appreciation of being out in the open .

After a couple of sessions of patting the dog and chatting to the wild fowler the conversation moved to whether I liked duck. The shoot he was part of was always producing a bag of game that was more than sufficient for its members. I was offered a brace of ducks for my interest in what is a minority country pursuit today. Sure enough the following Thursday evening (late November, a good reference book that lists shooting seasons and other “forgotten” food lore is River Cottage 2009) in walked Storm followed by the wild fowler. A plastic bag was proffered and hung up in the back of my waxed jacket on the coat rack watched by a Black Labrador acting as the catch on the game safe. A few pints were of Guinness were exchanged and an hour later I walked home on a frosty night with the brace of ducks.

I have had a little experience of plucking pheasants ad drawing the innards out. The ducks were different in types of feather on the body. I decided to clean the ducks that night as it was only about 9 pm. In the kitchen with a large black plastic sack enveloping the bird I started to pluck. This was quite a few years ago nearly 6 or so. As the feathers rapidly filled the sack, wisps of fine downy feathers escaped. The volume of feathers seemed to bear no relation to the size of the duck since they were plumped up and not sleek against the body of the duck. After 45 minutes two ducks resided in the fridge cleaned, cling filmed and oven ready. The ducks albeit fresh were shot on the previous Sunday and had been in a cold store. There are various old kitchen tales of how long game should be allowed to sit post mortem. This in my opinion is a matter of taste and also sometimes how much of a gambler you want to be with food hygiene. If your immune and digestive system can cope with for example pheasants hung by their tail until they prove that gravity exists, that's your choice and the best of luck!

The following Sunday the roasting of the duck commenced. Duck is sometimes described as rich meat. Wild Duck will tend to be smaller than those bred for the table. Commercial Duck are definitely FAT DUCKS compared to their 2010 wild counterparts. As a wild animal that does move about the muscles fibres will tend be in greater proportion to the fat content of the duck. Also you cannot necessarily guarantee it is “organic” as you do not know what it has been fed on, especially if the duck has migrated from another country.

So putting Green credentials aside here is  a method for a roasted duck. Pink breast meat is a fashion apparently but it has to be remembered that a fresh duck or any piece of poultry is not like a Turkey roll. It has a different shape across t's cross-section, so will cook at different rates within the bird itself. So if you want the majority of the bird to be cooked to a minimum level, the breasts might not have to be pink but slightly (again up to personal choice) more done for the legs to catch up.

Plain Roasted Duck

Serves: 4 people

Cost:   If you can mange it,  2 pints of Guinness but not all local pubs have wildfowlers that will chat, in fact they are getting more and more rare as firearm laws become more stringent (recent story in newspapers expressed concern about the number of shotgun firearms licences in Suffolk so there will probably be fewer).

Preparation time: 15 – 20 for plucking and drawing longer if you have to consult a manual or are unsure

Cooking time: Approx 1 ¾ hours
Food miles: Maximum single ingredient 60 miles from Suffolk at point of shot,hundreds if migrated

Amount of Waste produced: 1 black sack of feathers, carcass of bones

Code    Multiple use (will be used in other guises) , Essential , One off

Equipment needed
Large Roasting Dish large enough to contain duck and if you want to, roast potatoes at the same time with sides of about 4 cm or more higher.

1 duck
Salt and Pepper
Method or How to?

Prepare or do first
Turn the Oven on to 220ºC.
Remove the wing tips of the bird, since thy are meatless. Look inside the body cavity and remove any fat. One way of making the duck a little more even in shape is to place it on a board breast down. Press hard until you hear a crack. With either a wooden skewer or fine point of a small knife, just prick the skin, not the meat underneath, that covers the fatty parts of the bird. These are found on the breast and joint at which legs join the breast. This is where the fat will run out. Season the surface of the skin with salt and pepper. The salt will crisp the skin.

Cooking Hands on section (10 minutes)
Place the duck in the hot oven at 220ºC. After 20 minutes the fat should start to run. Remove the duck. Turn the oven down to 180ºC, pour baste the duck and replace back in the oven.

If you are cooking roast potatoes around the duck these can be added a further 20 minutes from this point, part boil (parboil) them first. In any case baste the duck again. You can do this every 20 minutes for best for results. If you did want to grab a Sunday Lunch pint the roasting is best done afterwards so Lunch will be a bit later, as long as your not snowed into the pub. It does happen!

After 1 and ½ hours total cooking time check with a skewer that the juices of the leg run clear. If there is still blood running this means further cooking is needed.

Prior to carving remove duck and drain any fat and juice from the bird cavity into the roasting tin. When carving slice between the legs and the breast, carefully pull the legs away from the body. Remove the breast with skin and slice thickly, it is usually possible so slice wafer thin so don't try as it only tears the meat.

Gravy can be made from parts of the duck. A good recipe for the gravy is to be found in the River Cottage Meatbook. This also gives a use for that winter vegetable beetroot, usually only seen by most English people in vinegar as part of a summer salad plate staining the ham.

So second Sunday after joining the Blogging community. Can get carried away in an hour and a half, interesting looking at the Web traffic that the most read posting was Sunday Lunch last week. An audience from the USA to Croatia, South Africa to Singapore and the UK.

I haven't yet plucked a duck this year but every once in a while a stray downy feather makes an appearance. This confuses the cat no end as it chases it across the room. Might be frozen duck again.

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